Watch our Christmas Eve service online only at 6pm.
Watch our Christmas Eve service online only at 6pm.
2 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
Caesar Augustus had brought the Roman Republic so much under his control, that finally he had transformed it into the Roman Empire. But in the hands of God, this Emperor was just a pawn. God needed to get Mary, who was nine months pregnant to make a journey of about 75 miles overland from Nazareth to Bethlehem, so that prophecy could be fulfilled. The prophecies of God are always fulfilled, completed from the time they’re spoken.
3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
Bethlehem Ephrathah was just a small city, likely about 300-1000 inhabitants. But this city of Ruth and Naomi, Boaz, and of course David was where God had said that the Messiah would be born, and this one prophecy effectively eliminated all other cities and towns throughout the world as a place in which the Messiah could be born.
Now Mary and Joseph were both of the House of David, so they would be going back to their ancestral home of Bethlehem.
5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
So, we know from verse 5 that Joseph and Mary traveled together for the census. This verse emphasizes the relationship between Mary and Joseph, since it indicates that Mary would not want to give birth without Joseph being there.
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
Jesus arrived at the exact day and hour he was supposed to. He arrived at night, so the shepherds could receive their visitation from the angels who pointed them to Jesus. Thousands of years of waiting for the Messiah, but suddenly when God’s timing was fulfilled, everything happened.
Our problem is that we usually are too impatient to wait for God’s timing.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son;
Mary gives birth to her firstborn son. Mary and Joseph had other children later. The mention that Jesus is the firstborn lets us know why we find Mary and Joseph and Jesus at the Temple 8 days later in Luke 2:23-24.
But, Luke is also stating clearly that Jesus is the firstborn son of a Davidic family in the ruling line, and therefore a legal right to inherit David’s throne, along with inheritance rights from Joseph.
and she wrapped Him in cloths
Wrapping newborns in strips of cloth, or swaddling, is not only an ancient practice to us today, but was an ancient practice to Mary and Joseph as well. It helped identify the baby to the shepherds who were looking for him. In Luke 2:12, when the angels announced the birth to the shepherds, they told them “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
and laid Him in a manger,
Jesus was laid in a manger, a feed trough, so therefore likely in a room designed to accommodate animals.
because there was no room for them in the inn.
And it would be quite possible that there was no room in the guest rooms of people’s houses, because David had a lot of descendants, and there were a lot of people crowding into this small town for the census.
Ancient tradition associates the birth of Jesus with a cave. Both Jerome and Paulinus of Nola mention a desecration. This indicates that the cave was a sacred site to Christians before the 2nd or 3rd century.
God, knowing that man would sin, knowing that He would have to send Jesus to Earth, and knowing that each and every person that Jesus saved would be a sinner, knew that humble beginnings would best prepare Jesus for His mission. Romans 5:8 puts it like this: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Bethlehem, this little, seemingly insignificant town, only gained prominence because it was a place of God’s choosing. It was the place that our friends Naomi, Ruth and Boaz were from, a city of the Tribe of Judah where God had David born, who would later be anointed the King of Israel.
No-one made room for them. When we’re comfortable in our own surroundings, the tendency is not to make room for Jesus—and maybe that’s why we find ourselves so rarely in comfortable surroundings! Sometimes it takes these difficult circumstances to wake us up to our need for Him, day by day, hour by hour.
How many times have you been so concerned about how God was going to solve a problem you’re praying about, and then are amazed that God, once you gave it over to His provision, immediately provided the solution? God is waiting for is for us to realize that should be calling on Him to meet our needs according to His will. His provision is more than we could have hoped for. Or, as Ephesians 3:20 puts it: Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.
When we last left Mary, her words in reply to the Angel Gabriel who had told her that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah were recorded in Luke 1 verse 38, when she said 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” And in these words, we begin to see the heart of this poor Jewish young girl, from a small village that God chose to be the vessel through which He would bring His Son Jesus into the world.
39 Now at this time Mary set out and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah,
Mary hurried to receive this confirmation, and to help her cousin.
40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Mary she greeted Elizabeth with a blessing which would be due her elder, her older cousin. Elizabeth could have no way of knowing that Mary was pregnant. Mary herself could not know she was pregnant for sure, except that Gabriel the angel had told her.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Baby John, within Elizabeth’s womb couldn’t express this joy he felt himself, but the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth and she was able to express what baby John could not.
42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
Elizabeth cries out, like an announcement, saying in a loud voice that Mary is blessed by God among women, highly favored, a chosen vessel of God.
Elizabeth blesses little Jesus as well. Jesus is the reason for all of this praising God and blessings. You know, to be the recipient of all of these blessings, and to inspire such praise toward God at the age of less than one month of development in the womb is a pretty early start in ministry.
43 And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?
How did Elizabeth already know that Mary is the mother of the Messiah? The Holy Spirit told her. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job, among others, to tell us about Jesus, and reveal Him more and more to us.
44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.
Baby John is trying to express at that moment in the only way he can—by moving his little legs and arms, and leaping. Baby John may not have had words to express how he felt, but he could still praise God. On Palm Sunday, when Jesus was riding triumphantly into Jerusalem, it was the children who were shouting in Mathew 21:15: ”Hosanna to the Son of David,” and Jesus said to the priests in verse 16, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘From the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?” And in our verses today, we see the Holy Spirit drawing baby John to Jesus, even before John has words to express how he feels. With this little leap, John begins his ministry as the forerunner of the Messiah—calling people to pay attention to Jesus and magnifying Jesus, not himself.
45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
Elizabeth’s final word to Mary in this meeting are to bless her for her faith. This verse is really the central verse of the visit. As Mary stands on her faith, her heart overflows with praising God in song.
Mary’s Song: The Magnificat
This is the place that gives us the clearest picture of the heart of this (probably young teenage) first century Jewish girl, and how she felt about being the willing vessel, by which God would bring His Son into the world. It describes her right understanding of her role as an instrument used by God, and what the coming of her son Jesus, the Messiah, meant for Israel, the descendants of Abraham, and indeed for us, as the spiritual descendants of Abraham.
46 And Mary said: “My soul [ac]exalts the Lord,47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
Mary magnifies or exalts the Lord God. She praises God for who He is, and praises God for being her savior, her deliverer.
48 For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-servant; For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
She praises God because he has looked upon, or regarded her despite the fact that she was a poor girl from a small town. And she knows that the blessing given her by Elizabeth will be echoed by all generations from then on, as indeed they have been, blessing Mary for being an exemplary bond-servant.
49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.
Mary acknowledges that God, the Mighty One has acted on her behalf, doing great things for her. What had seemed impossible, since she was a virgin, is possible because of the power of God.
50 And His mercy is to generation after generation Toward those who fear Him.
Next, she praises Him for His mercy, and God’s expression of His Holiness through the mercy that he has shown Israel, for generation after generation, to those who fear Him, recognizing His power and authority, and obeying Him out of respect and awe for Him.
51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God’s power to save, the mightiness of His deeds is what’s in focus here. His dealing with the proud. Those who choose, through pride, to be independent of God, and not respond to His offer of love, find themselves dissipated and scattered in the thoughts of their own hearts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.
Those rulers who seek to dominate others are themselves brought down by God—knocked off their thrones.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things, And sent the rich away empty-handed.
God has provided the hungry with what they needed, even in hard times.
54 He has given help to His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,
God has helped Israel, continuing to show them mercy and remembering the mercy that He has shown them and is continuing to show them.
55 Just as He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
God has helped Israel, and has not forgotten His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so many others, remembering the mercy that He has shown them and continuing to show this mercy throughout the generations, forevery.
56 Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. So, doing the math, Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist when Mary arrived, and she stayed for three months, which means that she very likely was present during the birth of John the Baptist to her cousin Elizabeth.